Work on the A-3 Skywarrior Whidbey Memorial project is in a holding pattern.
Construction crews preparing the site for the foundation of the concrete pad upon which the aircraft will eventually rest found more than they bargained for when they started digging.
“It’s an old underground storage tank,” said Bill Burklow of the A-3 Skywarrior Whidbey Memorial Foundation.
Construction workers hit the tank Sept. 25, just days after a triumphant groundbreaking. Members of the foundation thought they were within three weeks of getting the “Whale,” as the plane is affectionately known, off the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station tarmac and onto its new home at the corner of Ault Field Road and Langley Avenue, near the main base entrance. The project is now on hold.
“The tank is smack dab in the middle of the (concrete) pad,” Burklow said.
The discovery left the Navy with three options regarding the memorial: The current site could be abandoned; the same site could be used, but the static display would be moved; or construction could be delayed while officials investigate the situation.
According to a statement from Navy Public Affairs Officer Kimberly Martin, the Navy has chosen the latter.
“The location for staging the A-3 Skywarrior static aircraft on loan from the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola to NAS Whidbey Island will remain at the corner of Ault Field Road and Langley Blvd.,” Martin said. “During the initial site preparation, an underground storage tank was identified, requiring further investigation before the project can continue.”
Navy officials will not speculate on what, if anything, the tank may contain or when it was placed on the property.
“That’s what I wanted to happen,” Burklow said of the delay. “Putting (the aircraft) back in the farthest corner of that site by the treelike isn’t doing justice to the 263 men who lost their lives (flying the A-3).
“Even the paint scheme was built for that corner so people could see the Skywarrior squadrons involved with the plane coming and going,” he continued.
The building formerly located on the site was constructed in 1942 as an enlisted men’s club, according to Martin. It was remodeled in 1970 and served as the civilian personnel department and union lodge. It was demolished and removed in 2008. Martin said the memorial project is now targeted for completion in summer 2013.
The delay is disappointing to members of the foundation, who have been working on the project for more than three years. The “Whale” arrived at NAS Whidbey last spring. Foundation members spent several months modifying the aircraft to make it an accurate representation of the A-3s stationed at NASWI from 1957 to 1968.
The excitement foundation members felt at the groundbreaking in early September has now given way to resigned anticipation. The only real progress made at the memorial site was the removal of a tree near Ault Field Road.
“So the tree is gone and we’ve got a bigger hole,” said Burklow. “We’re just in a holding pattern, is all.”
One spot of good news in the delay is that the A-3 Skywarrior Association will hold a reunion in Oak Harbor in August, 2013. If the Navy’s projected schedule holds true, or is accelerated, the A-3 could be in position in time for the reunion.
“If all things go right and we don’t pull up any bones or a spotted owl doesn’t nest in a tree, we’ll be back in business,” Burklow said with a laugh. “It could be sooner, it could be later. It all depends.”